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2/24 - Ray Liotta Was Irish?

'You know, we always called each other goodfellas. Like, you'd say to somebody: "You're gonna like this guy; he's all right. He's a goodfella. He's one of us." You understand? We were goodfellas, wiseguys.' - Henry Hill

Check out this pic and tell me you don't see a little Liotta on the left. Don't know about you, but I'm tired of ND being the goodfella and maybe, just maybe, there's a mentality change going on. Notre Dame is staring at its third straight NIT invite, yet somehow I feel good about his team, much better than last year. Last year, IMO, was one of worst in recent Notre Dame memory. The team was not only inconsistent, but played with no heart, no toughness, no personality and seemingly at times, no coaching.

But, I thought Notre Dame played an excellent game against UConn. We took it to the hole fearlessly despite block after block and that opened up good looks for our sharpshooters. When you're aggressive you tend to get the bounces, when you're playing backwards, you don't. Colin Falls, Russell Carter and Chris Quinn we're all creating, rather than just chuckin' the ball "around the horn" waiting for a crack to jack a three-ball. All teams did in the past was extend the perimeter and double underneath leaving Notre Dame impotent and downright laughable at times.

But Notre Dame didn't make it's run against UConn only on the back of its offense, it did it behind a suffocating defense that denied, contested and harrassed. During a 25-2 run, Notre Dame played its best defense in recent memory in absolutely shutting down one of the best teams in the country.

Yeah, we lost again in a close one. But this one was not like the others. In Storrs we saw a glimpse of the Notre Dame team many thought we should have seen all year long with RuC and RiC playing extended minutes, creating mayhem and the Irish actually looking like the more athletic team at times by dictating the flow of the game.

When you're dictating the flow, you look more athletic.

Which of course begs (which really means avoid, btw) the question: What the hell took so long?

It's obvious that Notre Dame's woes can't be blamed on a complete lack of talent. As Charlie said when he came in, a team takes on the personality of its coach, yet too often, Brey seems content to let his players control the personality of the team. Maybe it's a subtle difference, but it's profound, IMO.

Charlie has the confidence in the other Quinn to make the play when necessary, but Brey seems to put the entire onus his players. I mean, yeah, in a perfect world, you want Chris Quinn taking the final shot, but the world ain't perfect and everyone in that gym and watching on TV expected Chris Quinn to take the final shot, which of course, greatl reduced his probability of making said shot. Meanwhile you've got four other guys in Falls, Carter, Zeller and Kurz who can shoot with accuracy and could have been options on a drive and dish.

“That’s the guy we wanted taking the shot,” Brey said of Quinn. “He made all the plays for us, and he wanted the ball again."

Well, yeah, but if he's going to be covered by three guys doesn't that change things? BTW, the above quote was after the West Virginia loss. So he wanted the ball again, big deal. Newsflash: All players are going to want the ball, it's a coaches responsibility to decide if that's the best option.

Okay, now it looks like I' m nitpicking. I really can't judge a coach on one shot, nor do I blame Brey for that loss, I thought he coached an excellent game. I'm really illustrating a point that has bothered me for awhile about Brey, his tendency to shift responsibility to his players.

When Brey arrived here he entrusted David Graves and Troy Murphy to lead and dictate the character of the team and often times the team looked disinterested and lacking in intensity.

When Chris Thomas emerged as the best player, the team took on Thomas's personality and often looked out of sync and incohesive. I know many players did not like playing with Thomas who was viewed as selfish and out for himself.

Now with Quinn, we have a true competitor, who's intense, but this team has still lacked in intensity over long stretches. So what's up?

The bottom line is that if Brey is going to let his players dictate the personality of the team he has to be 100% positive those players are doing everything "he wants" them to do. Weis entrusts games to the other Quinn, because that Quinn has become Weis on the field. Brady has adopted the personality of Weis, therefore it makes sense for Weis to completely trust him. And ultimately, Weis takes all of the responsibility. Just when you're sure Weis is going to have Quinn throw it, he hits Darius with a quick draw. Weis plays the percentages and rolls when the odds are with him, and, it's true, those odds are "usually" with your key player, but also many times not.

Brey has a philosophy that puts onus on the players, but the ultimate responsibility still falls on Brey himself to demand that the team function at a high level, its highest, every game.

The spurt against UConn was very telling because it showed what Notre Dame is capable of on offense and defense when it adopts the right mindset. Coach K gets Duke to play that way very consistently. Notre Dame seems to coast, as if the season weren't at stake on many plays. What UConn proved is that Notre Dame can reach a higher plane. Too often this team hasn't been pushed to its limits, but rather comfortably under its limits.

The only way for players to find their true limits is to be pushed beyond what they think is possible until they discover an entirely different level of accomplishment and ability.

I just don't think Notre Dame has done that or plays like it, but the UConn game gives me hope and maybe a glimpse of a new mentality. In Storrs, Notre Dame touched the level it needs to play at every game for forty minutes and if it can lock into that mindset, nothing is impossible this year, nothing. We have the talent, we're aged up, we've got a great leader and this team has shown it can get there.

ND needs to rise up and play at that level all the time and Coach Brey, has to make sure his players get to that level, that's his job.

Maybe this is a rant, but I've sensed the same thing over and over and over again. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Rather than play the good fella, I'd love to see Brey snap and channel a little Tommy Devito, because losing again and again, just ain't funny anymore:

"Let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it's me, I'm a little @#$@#$ up maybe, but I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I'm here to @#$@#$' amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?"

2/24 - Overdue Mailbag

The Mailbag hasn't been working of late and I'm a little slow on this blog technology. Fixed the link. Reaching back, here's the good, the bad and the ugly.


Hey The Rock, I enjoy your website. I read your article, and still think if ND wins the national championship,it will be like when the US hockey team beat Russia in the Olympics way back when. If it does happen, the defensive personal greatly improved. Just can't run the table without a great defense. Trojans know.


This email is not in response to any of your articles, although i do enjoy reading them. I just want to point out that the American flag on the banner at the top of the page is displayed incorrectly. The union should always be at the top and left. http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/flagetiq.html

Thank you,
J-Mack

Rock
,

As I see it we are in an interesting catch-22. You hit the nail on the head. We have no real pass rush. But this involves down defensive linemen and a pinching defensive end that are created by personnel with innate physical skills rather than developed by knowledge that comes with minutes played. And so, we are faced with a situation that won't improve regardless of coaching since you can't coach innate physical skills into a player. Now here's the paradox, our draft capabilities are a reflection of the defensive coach (i.e. the offense drafted well because of Weis) and of the current 20 or so potential prospects for next year [2007]the lions share are on offense so it looks like next years draft is already being shaped up as offensive heavy and defensive lean. Why? Dah! Because a Minter is not perceived as a Weis. So, CW should probably get rid of Minter ASAP in order to immediately improve the prospects for next year; but that will represent a disruption in the coaching. Big deal. Did the coaching disruption of finally getting rid of Willingham have a dramatic affect on our win/loss record this year verus last. Yeah! It improved! My advice. Error on getting rid of Minter NOW, because without better talent, the "experience" of players who are there simply doesn't matter. To put it another way, you can't create a Reggie White out of a lamb no matter how long you coach him. Do it now while you still have a window of opportunity to effect a change in the defensive pool of players that will be willing to consider ND!


I really enjoy reading all your articles! You tell it genuinely as it is.

Your argument against the Detroit writer who wrote about Willingham's firing was well-thought out and so true that, even though a Detroit writer wrote it, you proved him to be an idiot. I hope you will continue to share your thoughts because you seem to give a true picture of what is happening at Notre Dame in recruitment, and in other issues. Very enjoyable and thought-provoking. Thank You.

You're the best.. A thinking mans Beano Cook.

I predict Archie Griffin will win two Heismans

Rock-
Love your column and bought your book. However, I'm a bit surprised to see you interject your political opinions on this board. Like it or not, good or bad, this will have an effect.

Bob

P.S. Love Dennis Miller, his show, and his views.

I retracted it.

Willingham is garbage, and i agree 100% with the rock. Don't forget that ND is "racist" because they gave a black guy who didn't know how to coach a chance! Willingham is garbage and that's why he'll get fired from a bottom program like UW!

It's "an ND grad", not "a ND grad". Good English should be commensurate with a good education. And, when you get a little experience, you'll just smile and feel sorry for people so in a rush they can't hear or see. I hope he wasn't rushing to the hospital where his mother was dying.
ND '60

If you had a little experience you'd know that people who nitptick on Grammar (Grammar Ladies) tend to be small and do so in a petty way when they're unable to make a larger, more meaningful point. Besides, what if I was writing this right before I was rushed to the hospital where a family member was dying? Wouldn't you feel like an ass.

your best, loved the albom story and the "six million dollar handicap"

Do you guys email the rock? I'm on the road on blackberry a lot, can't browse. Just curious.

Not yet


Dear Rock, what are the chances that any one of the 28 current recruits will bail come Feb.1? We all know that Chuck always has a plan B for most things. I gotta believe at least one will bail. Has the staff checked to see that everyone is still happy and committed? You and I both know it's be damn stupid for a young recruit to bail from a program clearly on the rise (steep vertical), not to mention a degree from ND. Thoughts!....ND National Champs in 2007

At this point, zero.

Rock,
I like your stuff. I look forward to new posts and enjoy reading your well-informed pieces. But, I thought you took it a touch too far listing the UW recruits and highlighting which guys hadn't received other offers. I realize the point was Ty's weaknesses, but you made your point without the list. These kids are high school seniors....good enough to get a D-1 football scholarship (even if it was only one). Good for them! I couldn't pull that off. Keep them out of your beef with Ty.
JBMcD '91

A UW guy put it together, I just printed their work.


CO '03 and I love Notre Dame football. I check your site out to see the headlines. Period. Unfortunately, you are as petty as the others you ridicule. Take the high road. When Notre Dame wins the national championship again it will be all the more sweet for others who have quitely sat by and waited patiently. Nothing is changed by being obnoxious and unfortunately...that is all you are. A no-class hack.

Never learned that pot/kettle lesson did you?


Really enjoy your most insightful artcles. I especially enjoy your take on ex "Coach" Willingham. I relly believed that it would take years to undue (if Ever) the damage done to the Football program by this pretender. Thank God Charlie did it in one year. I guarantee that Washington will rue the day. Keep up the fine reporting!! Bill Craig, Villanova "68, Subway Alumni, Forever.
I have just recently found "The Rock" articles and will be a avid reader forever now! Great articles! I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for a new article every day! Keep them coming!
Careful, Rock, when you talk about "Tytanic iceberg holes in the side of Irish recruiting.."!
That ship sank and was a total loss. We've got Charlie floating our boat nowadays!

Fun column though!

Boomer80

Haven't you heard? They're refloating the Tytanic in Lake Washington. Ask CO-03, he's hep to that.

2/23 - The Third Year Test Comes Early - Offense I

As The Rock covered in the last column, it looks like second year or bust if Weis is going to keep within the three year rule of past legends. As a reminder, Parseghian, Leahy, Devine and Holtz all won national championships in their third seasons, while Rockne had his second straight undefeated season. But after this year, Notre Dame will lose over half its starting team, including, on offense: Brady Quinn, Ryan Harris, Jeff Samardzija, Rhema McNight, Bob Morton, Brian Mattes, John Sullivan(has a 5th year,) Marcus Freeman and Dan Santucci (on defense, it's Landri, Laws(5th?), Frome, Abiamiri, Wooden(5th?), Zibby(5th?), Nedu and Richardson.) Uh hum. Now factor in the reality that the recruiting classes in the upcoming junior and sophomore classes were probably the worst two back-to-back talent hauls in modern history and Weis really has only one choice, win it this year.

If not it's wait for this year's expected "one for the ages" recruiting class to age into a national championship team. Don't get me wrong, playing opportunity is a great recruiting tool and Notre Dame, by all accounts, will sign one of its greatest recruting classes ever this year, but as talented as those guys may be, they're not going to get it done as freshmen unless they all have big "S's" underneath their workout grays. I really do like this freshmen class, but there just aren't a lot of top -tier game-changers ala Reggie Bush and Vince Young. I look at this year's class as the foundation (they're all good, but few greats) and next year's as the class that will raise us to a championship team.

Charlie has a lot of pieces to work with this year on offense and a defense that should improve dramatically from last year. That said, Notre Dame just doesn't possess the overall talent of Texas or USC, so if the Irish are going to win it all, it's going to come down to hugs, kisses, disciplined play and a little luck. A much overlooked fact was that Notre Dame lost exactly six fumbles in twelve games, and threw just eigth interceptions, that's remarkable and part discipline, part luck.

The Big Uglies

I like to begin upfront, because usually as the line goes, so goes the offense. Last year Notre Dame could not dominate the line of scrimmage at will and was forced into more of a finesse running game. If Notre Dame's offensive line can, which returns four of it's top six lineman, dicatate a running game, this offense could very well be unstoppable. Right now, that's a big if. Mark LeVoir played very well at the right tackle position last year and the Irish are going need one of Mattes, Turkovich, Duncan, Young or possibly even Stewart to step in and step-up (that's for you Andy) and become the fifth cog in this ugly wheel. Ryan Harris seems to have been at Notre Dame as long as Carlos Huerta kicked at Miami (I swear he was on the ten year plan,) but that's because he started out of the gate. Along with Harris are Sullivan (USA AA,) Morton and Santucci. That gives the Irish a strong nucleus to build upon and should be a very good offensive line, though I just don't see it being dominant next year. Is it possible? Yes, they were in an entirely new offense last year and most of the unit returns, but I'm not sure the horses are there to blow talented big men off the point of attack.

Out: Mark LeVoir, Dan Stevenson
In: Sam Young, Dan Wenger, Matt Curafel, Bartley Webb, Chris Steward, Eric Olsen

Air Brady

Brady Quinn will return at quarterback. Here's his stat line: PE:158.4 Att:450 Comp: 292 C%: 64.9 Yards:3919 YPG:326.6 YPA:8.7 TD:32 INT:7 Sacks:20

What all that means is that he threw for the third most yards in the country, the third most touchdowns and was sacked just twenty times, a stat he doesn't get enough credit for. He's pretty good, don't ya think? He is going to have to adjust his throwing scheme this year. Don't know if you caught it, but Quinn repeatedly put the ball on a very high plane where only Stovall, Fasano and Samardzija could get it, with Rhema replacing Stovall, he won't have that luxury this year. Oh, and if his sister is going get more pub off his performance she better damn will ditch the "halfsies" jersey and wear full on Notre Dame next year. Pardon my digression. Heisman candidate.

Out: Nobody
In: Demetrius Jones, Frazer

The Wingmen

I don't have to remind you that The Rock picked Samalamadingdong as his darkhorse a few years back do I? Okay, I won't then. Samardzija is as a talented a player as Notre Dame has had at Wide Receiver. Rhema McKnight was the go-to wide receiver two years ago. In my opinion, Rhema's an excellent wide receiver, but not a game-breaker. What Notre Dame is lacking is a true speed receiver that can stretch the field or run that damn deep seam route that Troy Brown used to run for the Patriots. David Grimes is one of those guys who just gets open and should play a lot as third receiver. Weis has a lot of confidence in Grimes, he had him on kickoff returns and even put him in for a reverse in the all-everything game against USC. But, Chase Anastascio, if he emerges from the dog house or DJ Hord, if he develops, could offer more inviting targets. Rob Ianello has proven himself a to be much more than a recruiter and one of the most valuable members of this staff. I'm expecting him to coach-up (another for you Andy) Hord. Hord has sub10.5 100M speed, but can he translate that into a game? On the Frosh side, Weis has brought in four wide-receivers that are capable of playing now. I really like Gallup as you know, Jackson has an NFL body, West as the Troy Brown capability and Parris is the heir apparent to the big man legacy. I expect one of this group to see extensive action this year and if I had to pick, it would be Jackson.

Out: Maurice Stovall, Matt Shelton
In: Richard Jackson, Barry Gallup, Rob Parris, George West

Tomorrow, or at least in the next week, we'll take a look at the tight end, tailback and fullback positions. Oh crap, and the kickers, always forget the kickers. BTW, we just shot up over 900 book sales (much thanks for your support) and it's on order at the following stores:

Barnes & Noble Booksellers
6805 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 665-071

Borders Books & Music
1801 K St NW, Washington, DC
(202) 466-4999

Borders Books & Music
(202) 737-1385
600 14th St NW, Washington, DC

I'll be doing book signings at all three places soon if you're in the area.

~ The Rock

2/20-"I'm Not Dead Yet!"




No this team isn't dead and even The Rock's seemingly "outlandish" prediction of a sweet sixteen berth isn't out of the question. Here come the men in black and they're starting to gel. Brey's found a big man group, a guard group and a new nastier attitude. It's about flippin' time because Chris Quinn deserves better.

"It's just a flesh wound"

Five straight losses sent The Pit into an emota tizzy, with meltdown after meltdown. But four of those losses were to #2, #14, #23 and #28 in the country and all were nail-biters. None were collapses, we didn't suffer from selfish or lazy play and there were some really positive signs, including Falls creating his own shot and the emergence, ladies and gentlemen, of one Mr. Russell Carter.

"Death awaits with big, nasty, pointy teeth!"

Every game from here on out is a must win, beginning with tonight's showdown with the Huskies in Storrs and their annoying UConn chant. I say we can take them down, but the Irish are going to have to play with their collective hair on fire to do it. Watch Duke play and every play looks like life or death. Watch the Irish play sometimes and it's like, "we'll get'em next trip, dude." But that attitude seems to be changing as the schedule pushes the Irish backs toward the cliffs of insanity also known as the NIT.

"We are now the nights that say icky icky icky fetang zook "

I don't know what's up with the black unis and I don't care, but if the "urban Irish" play better in black than we should Johnny Cash it right to the end. I like this team and really hope they snatch victory, because the jaws of defeat suck.

"You could shoot him twice and he's still going to the basket to score and you can't stop him."

That Luke Harangody quote is an instant classicHere'sre's some more on the Irish's next great big man and little man. Brey has quietly scored a deadly recruiting twosome in Harangody and Jackson.

Luke Harangody led the way for Andrean (14-5) with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

Harangody had one guy tugging on his left arm, another tugging on his right and yet another actually tugging at his shorts.

Of course no one will have ordered it, but one of these nights Luke Harangody is going to rip down the backboard and ceiling supports and open a hole to the heavens in Andrean's roof.

Friday night, Harangody had a couple of his thunderous dunks against Hammond, including one that is probably still shaking the support structure as the 59ers beat Hammond 64-55 in the LAC Black.

"We felt that with our size and ability to work inside we could start to take the game over a little bit," Harangody said of that key stretch. "It wasn't really anything we set out to do, it was just part of our offense."

And a few on Tory Jackson:

Buena Vista's Tory Jackson nailed a 3-pointer for a one-point lead, but Nouvel's Luke Hendrick answered with a 3 that Jackson answered back with another triple to lead it 70-69.

After Jackson made another nifty move to the basket for a layup, Hendrick nailed another 3-pointer for a 72-72 tie with 2:40 left.

This time Kadeem Green gave the Knights a lead with two free throws that began an 8-0 run that put the game away.

During that run, Nouvel turned the ball over and missed the front ends of a pair of one-and-ones. Conversely, BV stalled nearly a minute off the clock before Richmond found a seam to the basket for an easy layup. Anthony Mills then scored an easy bucket after getting loose down the court unguarded.

"I'm proud of the comeback, that's a positive, something we can build on," Nouvel coach Warren Wood said.

While Jackson scored 36 points, it was Richmond's 25 that had Wood more upset.


Tom Markowski's Top 5: Playmakers
Five of the top point guards in the state:

Tory Jackson, senior, Saginaw Buena Vista: Jackson had more of a scorer's mentality early in his career and has become more of a team player who possesses, and uses, great court vision. A suburb passer, Jackson has shown leadership qualities associated with players who place winning above personal achievements.

Tory Jackson was "on" Friday night.

The Buena Vista senior scored a game-high 30 points to lead the host Knights to a 60-48 victory over Nouvel Catholic Central.

"Jackson started out hot in the first quarter," Nouvel coach Warren Wood said. "He had three 3-pointers in the first quarter.

"He was just really on tonight."

Jackson scored 21 points in the first half, as Buena Vista built a 31-24 lead.

David Richmond got into the act in the second half, scoring 13 of his 17 points in the final two quarters. Richmond and Jackson combined to score all 14 of the Knights' points in the third quarter.

"We made a conscious effort to take the ball to the basket in the second half," Buena Vista coach Chris Chaffer said. "Tory did a lot more distributing in the second half."



And Finally there's this email sent to Kabong about Tory Jackson:

Had a chance to see our recruit Friday night against Saginaw Nouvel. Tory scored 36 points in a close win. Here are my impressions as well as those of a couple of knowledgeable observers with whom I sat.

1) Tory is very mature physically, both upper and lower body. This will help when he steps into rough and tumble BEAST next year. While Tory is listed as 5'10", I stood next to him after the game and he looks closer to 6' than 5'10". He also plays big, and in fact his coach routinely puts him on the low wing on defense.

2) He is every bit as quick as advertised. My brother is a HS FB coach at a top Michigan program who had to defend Tory a couple of times before Tory gave up football. He told me Tory was as quick a kid as he's seen in 30 years of coaching. Tory's spin move bilaterally in the key is as fast as any I've seen in HS. Overall his change of speed and direction is outstanding and his ball handling is advanced.

3) Tory is deadly from anywhere on the floor, including the charity stripe. He tends to try to manufacture shots from on top of the key, but his supporting cast (except Richmond who had 25 pts.) is average at best. Tory will learn in college how to stage his shots off of teammates.

4) Finishing drives down low, he sometimes gets trapped. He does, however, invariably find a way to wiggle out, including an "invisible" push off move that digs him out. Again these are minor things that will be refined at the next level.

5) Tory squares up beautifully. Also, he is ambidextrous dribbling. No, I don't mean just on the crossover, I mean on the drive. He can also effortlessly lay it up with either hand. On one transition drive from the right side he elevated for the layup, then after the fake pump, switched to the other hand and completed the reverse layup even though heavily defended. It was one of those sequences where fans just look at each other and think "Oh my!".

6) His on-court composure is very good, no showboating or celebration. The most change-up in emotion I saw from him was after a foul call on him where he looked at his coach, they both smiled and then he put his hand up reluctantly. BTW, he does not foul often. Importantly, in a fast paced game against a good Class B school (Nouvel) Tory never came out of the game.

7) Tory and BV may very well draw Nouvel in the district final. They have 4 regular season games left, then playoffs in early March. Tory will have to continue his spectacular play for his team to advance deep in the tournament. Even though these are B schools, they regularly go up against top flight competition. Nouvel lost a close game to Columbus Dublin Coffman H.S. in the finals of Coffman's holiday tournament, and have beaten ranked A and B teams this year. Buena Vista lost to Detroit Country Day in a close one (I believe) and beat Detroit Orchard Lake St. Mary's. Of course, Tory led BV to the state title as a soph.

8) Finally, one of my buddies was a star in the Saginaw Valley Conference years ago and played D 1 BBall on the west coast as his school's top scorer. Both he and my coach/ brother who was a former HS BBall and FB standout believe Tory could be the best point guard to come out of the talent rich Sainaw Valley in decades. My buddy's analysis is that Tory can be a "superstar" at the next level and play beyond. He is shocked that Izzo did not make a play for Tory, and UM fans openly concede Amaker lost a big one. The common refrain around here is "How did Notre Dame get this kid out of Michigan?".

2/19 - Rating the Recruits: Jackson, Young, Stewart & Wenger

Richard Jackson
Wide Receiver
Clermont (FL)
East Ridge
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 195 pounds

Glue -
It's obvious after reviewing all of the wide receiver tapes that Weis values one quality above all others: the ability to catch the ball. Jackson won't blow you away with speed, though he has enough to be dangerous, but he catches... everything. His highlight tape shows the same thing over and over and over again: Jackson out-jumping, out-muscling or out-positioning defenders for the ball. He can catch it over the shoulder, the throw behind and over the middle. He's another kid who looks mature beyond his years, a theme with this latest round of Weis recruits. The reason he wasn't rated higher by some services is that he doesn't dazzle you with speed or moves, but he's the kind of guy you hate to play against and quarterbacks love to have... the guy who always brings down the ball.


Rock Rating ****


Sam Young
Offensive tackle
Ft. Lauderdale (FL)
St. Thomas Aquinas
Height: 6-foot-8
Weight: 302 pounds

Man-Child - Young's video is comical. He looks like he hardly touches rushers and they go down. He has incredible size, but his footwork and body placement also look outstanding. No one can get around him, because he has a wingspan like a 787, but he also has a killer instinct on film. On one play Young fires out and takes out a linebacker by driving him ten yards down the field then planting like small shrub. It's unusual to see a guy this tall who looks coordinated, but Young seems to have great body control. Of course, all of this video is against players who look half his size, but it's easy to see that he will be a centerpiece player and a future NFL draft pick.

Rock Rating *****


Chris Stewart
Offensive guard
Klein (TX)
Height: 6-foot-5
Weight: 340 pounds

Oh My - You do not want to get hit by this man. Where Young is massive rangy, Stewart is just plain massive everywhere and he has one of the most important attributes an O-lineman can have, IMO, big ass. Stewart's got a bigger ass than Shaq and a surprising amount of clearance under his hooves when he gets going. A lot of players Stewart's size shuffle their feet, Stewart can actually get some leg drive going and that was a deadly combination in high school, where he just crushed people again and again. Couple of those kids are going to have some serious back problems later in life. If you factor in a little slim-fast and time on the treadmill, Stewart's got the goods to dominate at the point of attack. ND just hasn't had a player of his size and potential since I've followed the Irish.

Rock Rating *****



Daniel Wenger
Offensive center
Ft. Lauderdale (FL)
St. Thomas Aquinas
Height: 6-foot-4
Weight: 280 pounds

The Hammer - Wenger looks like he punches you in the mouth on every play. Seems to have great explosion at the point of attack and strikes defenders. Doesn't have the massive size of the two behemoth's detailed above and seems to lack a little booty, but other than that there's not much to fault with this player. He punishes opposing players, stays with his blocks and looked agile downfield blocking on a few plays. Hard to tell how he'll match-up against guys his own size in college, but dominant high school player who could easily start at Notre Dame at some point and seems to have the tenacity to become more than that.

Rock Rating ****

2/17 - Jason Brainlock Calls Out Willingham

In a strange hard turn toward reality, Kansas City race-baiting, fact-bungling, emota-writer Jason Brainlock has done an about face on Tyrone Willingham... The Rock carries his story in full:
Thursday, February 16, 2006
ND's Willingham has himself to blame
By “Bizarro” Jason Brainlock
Special to Page 2

There's no reason to tiptoe around it, so I won't. Tyrone Willingham’s inevitable demise at the University of Notre Dame was not a product of my home state's inherent racism. No way.

Notre Dame and its fans have treated Tyrone Willingham fairly.

Tyrone Willingham never embraced Notre Dame, and that's why he wasn't able to ultimately succeed there.

Willingham was fired at the end of last season. He totally mismanaged a golden opportunity by throwing a three-year pity party, surrounding himself with butt-kissers and failing to demonstrate leadership by embracing the very people he claims he desperately wanted to embrace him.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, let me share with you that at one time, I was an ardent Tyrone Willingham supporter and a friend. We've been to each other's homes, met each other's families and friends, and spent countless hours on the phone discussing the politics of his situation at Notre Dame.

I grew up in Indianapolis, and just like every other Indiana boy, had a healthy respect for Notre Dame’s football program. Just after college, I worked for a newspaper in Bloomington for one year.

My point is, I know the territory, the character and the values of the people in the state. It wasn't difficult for me to imagine the obstacles Willingham faced in replacing Rockne, Leahy and Holtz.

Since that time, I've rooted for Willingham from afar. And I've winced time and time again as Willingham inched closer to bungling a career job by repeatedly making stupid statements because his skin was too thin to handle coaching a legendary program.

You didn't have to spend much time around Willingham, or be a Jesse Jackson supporter, to know he has long believed Notre Dame fans haven't embraced him, his west-coast offense, three straight mediocre seasons after a promising start because Notre Dame are uncomfortable with a black man running the house that Rockne built.

Willingham has subtly and not so subtly played the race card after his three-year tenure at Notre Dame. And in an interview with ABC, when he feigned ignorance as to whether race might have played a role in his firing, Willingham was once again dancing with the issue of race.

Even before Pete Carroll, coaching Notre Dames biggest rival, put a fork in Willingham’s coaching career by leading the Trojan’s to victory inside the Coliseum, Willingham has already begun looking for a way out, talking with Washington about taking the likely job there next season.

Come on, let's not pussyfoot around. Willingham knew quite well that many Notre Dame fans wanted him replaced. Willingham’s comments were calculated, designed to create sympathy and paint Notre Dame fans in an unflattering, redneck light.

Willingham went as far as to blame his players' inability to focus and perform for every loss. The Irish, Willingham claims, just can't execute at a high level despite excellent coaching.

Willingham isn't the first coach -- black or white -- to face a hanging tree. And you know what? He's probably not the first to tie his own noose, pick out the tree and kick the chair out from underneath his feet. It just feels like the first time to me, because I've seen it coming from the get-go.

While Willingham believes Notre Dame needs one of its own to lead the Irish, I contend that all Notre Dame fans want is a coach who passionately wants to be at Notre Dame. Period.

Willingham spent too much time whining and feeling sorry for himself at Notre Dame.

Willingham’s lack of passion for Notre Dame is at the crux of his Notre Dame Crucifixion. Notre Dame fans have never embraced Tyrone Willingham because Tyrone Willingham has never embraced Notre Dame. You see, regardless of how Lou Holtz’s Notre Dame career ended, regardless of what happened with Bob Davie, loving Notre Dame begins and ends with loving its history.

Willingham needed to eat from the forbidden apple (Notre Dame’s traditions) from the outset and continue eating from that tree to this day, no matter how sour the apples taste. Without that history, there is no Tyrone Willingham, and there's certainly no million-dollar-a-year contract.

Instead of playing up to the bar set by that tradition, Willingham thought he could survive by winning early and befriending members of the Indianapolis and national media willing to criticize Notre Dame and champion Willingham.

You know what that will get you? Three years, one good contract, a couple of groupie TV anchors and a nice home to hide in when USC comes to town and your entire fan base wants you fired.

It doesn't even set you up for your next job. Seriously, athletic directors aren't looking for leaders who go golfing when the going gets tough.

Again, this all comes back to Willingham’s unwillingness to love the one he's with. Julius Jones and Carlyle Holiday, a couple of great kids, tried their best, but were never used properly. Yet Willingham spent the entire season talking about how much better the Irish would be the following season once the system was finally in place.

Carlyle Holiday, Darius Walker, Jeff Samardzija, Maurice Stovall -- never were properly used by Willingham.

Shortly after the opening-winning streak, Willingham discovered that winning at Notre Dame was harder then he thought. He might as well have said, "you know, we need to play half our home games against San Jose State."

Willingham needed to kill the Irish supporters (and the bigots) with unbridled love of all things Notre Dame, even the hokey, old-school traditions. He could cry and bitch at home, but his public statements should've expressed a deep desire to be Notre Dame's head coach and a willingness to immerse himself in Notre Dame's unique football culture.

Willingham chose to speak of his desire to someday coach in the NFL. He told Washington coaches that he wanted to leave South Bend. In public and in private, Willingham told people exactly what was on his mind.

It was impossible for Notre Dame fans to love a coach who so obviously didn't love Notre Dame. Irish fans are just like you and me. They tend to love people who love them.

Willingham's loathing of all things Notre Dame ruined any chances of his consistently tapping into what has been a very fertile crop of Division I talent around the country the last few years. Willingham and his coaching staff failed to do the necessary legwork to build bridges with the high school coaches.

Frustrated by his inability to land Brian Toal, Willingham decided to sit in his living-room for hours, refusing to leave. He thought it was enough to recruit two offensive lineman a year.

Question is, does Willingham recover? Will he be able to rebound at Washington?
Willingham' recruitment of Brady Quinn was nearly comical in its execution. It was only through a close friendship between Brady and Irish recruit Chinedum Ndukwe that Brady essentially recruited himself to Notre Dame.

Are there some ND fans who don't like Willingham simply because of the color of his skin? Yes. But that element in no way cost Willingham his job. Tyrone Willingham cost himself one of the best jobs in America by his performance on the job.

Pity provides comfort, but it sure don't pay the bills.
And truer words were never written. If you've read this far and thought it was dead-on, it is, but it's actually Whitlock on Mike Davis at IU. A couple of ND sleuths switched a couple of names and facts to show just how absurd most of the media is when dealing with Notre Dame and the double standard most journalists apply when talking about the Irish.


(submitted by KatersND and edited by NDPhilo)


2/13 - The Three Year Test Comes Early - Defense

At Notre Dame the third year has been the telling charm for coaches who ascend into the legendary ether that infuses the campus with tradition and sparks magic on game day. Parseghian, Leahy, Devine and Holtz all won national championships in their third seasons, while Rockne had his second straight undefeated season. Looking at the roster, it's obvious Weis is going to have to make his mark in year two, because the talented senior class will take most of Notre Dame's talent with them when they graduate next year.

Let's begin by looking at next year, the individual pieces and then the sum total that can be more or less than the parts. I'm going to start on defense and work my way toward the offensive side of the ball, where things look very bright for next year.

The 'Littler' Uglies

You couldn't ask for more experience returning on the defensive line. Abiamiri, Laws and Landri are the returning starters, with Talley pressed into action after Chris Frome went down with an injury. Frome is returning this year on what will likely be the most experienced defensive line in the country. Ronald Talley played well this year for being pressed into action early, but the defensive line, as a whole, just didn't disrupt opposing offenses. This is where Notre Dame needs to make an enormous jump in terms of performance matching potential. You won't find a line with as many accolades as this one... Abiamiri, Frome, Laws, Leitko (likely returning) and Landri were all USA Today All-Americans, but to date ,none have lived up to their star billing. Each has shown flashes of their ability, but last year's anemic pass rush was the Achilles Heel that allowed teams to attack our secondary. Laws and Landri played well on the inside this year and I think both will turn into star players in 2006. Beidatsch will be missed because he was the utility player could plug holes when necessary. Back in 1993, Notre Dame was in a similar situation with Young, Flanigan, Gibson and Hamilton. All received heavy accolades, yet under performed in 1992. They came back as a lynch pin group that drove the '93 team to the national championship that year. The coach? Rick Minter. It is time for Minter to prove his mettle and hold up the defensive side of the playing bargain and for that Jappy Oliver needs to find a pass rush. This is a good line, but it won't be a championship line if it can't generate a pass rush and the 'talent excuse' does not wash here.

Out: Brian Beidatsch
In: Paddy Mullen, John Ryan, Kallen Wade


The Midway Men

That improvement we're expecting from the defensive line had better hit the linebacking corps a year early. Hoyte and Mays turned in impressive years, making up two thirds of what was the best unit on defense (coached by Minter.) But both leading tacklers are outta here and that means the young talent had better make up ground or make way because there's no time for a learning year. Anthony Vernaglia appears to be the key to making this unit a championship unit. Blessed with great size and speed (he's a combine freak,) Vernaglia has been consistently labeled soft by those around the program. Mitchell Thomas has been another strong numbers guy, but hasn't been able match his potential to his play. For Notre Dame to make a strong run this year, Vernaglia has to emerge in the Apache role, if so, he'll likely join Maurice Crum (coming off surgery) and one of Thomas, Brockington, Borseti, Quinn, Smith or even Torryan Smith. Crum has the talent to be a force, but it's unclear how his injury will play out next year. What I would like to see by the end of the year is Torryan Smith working his way into the two-deep, with Vernaglia at Apache and Crum at Will. That's asking a lot of a freshman, but this unit is going to need a jolt and there's just something about Smith that makes me think he's going to go down as an Irish great.

Out: Brandon Hoyte, Cory Mays
In:
Torryan Smith, Mo Richardson, Jaashad Gaines(?)


The Gatekeepers

There isn't a more maligned unit on the Irish squad than the secondary, which was burnt to a Tostitos' crisp by Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Ambrose Wooden emerged as a very talented player last year (I still wish he hadn't chased down Dwayne Jarrett,) but one still learning the nuances of the cornerback position. Mike Richardson exceeded everyone's expectations and as a fifth year incumbent, he will be tough to beat out. Tommy Zibikowski might be the fastest 'football speed' player on this team. He made up ground on practically big name player who got behind him, which is of course, a not where you want to see his prowess. He does have a knack for finding the ball as his five pics bear witness, but he was also caught biting on fakes often. Ndukwe doesn't look like a free safety. He looks like a linebacker. Notre Dame needs a free safety with the athleticism of David Bruton, but does Bruton have the football skills? As IE pointed out in their articles on the secondary, it's hard to tell who's at fault until you know what coverage the Irish are playing... but it's clear both Nedu and Zibby got caught many times. Darrin Walls and Raeshon McNeil both could battle for the nickel back spot on this unit and gain measurable playing time. Both could also be possibilities at safety if that's deemed where they're needed. Terrail Lambert has yet to prove he is anything but a numbers guy and Lou Ferrine failed to make an impact. You can't look at the secondary in a vacuum and it's clear that this secondary might be much better than most think right now, especially with another year and with a rusher coming off the corner.

Out: Nobody
In: Raeshon McNeil, Darrin Walls, Jaashad Gaines(?), Leonard Gordon, Sergio Brown

The Nuts

Notre Dame figures to be very strong against the run, but we could be in for a bad case of Deja Vu if we don't find a way to get to the quarterback. NFL defensive coordinators know a rush is the only way to stop a quarterback from picking apart, even a very good secondary. Time kills and time in the pocket has lead to big numbers for opposing defenses. Notre Dame ranked all the way...

Virginia Tech


12


12.0


239.7


1789


1087


19


5


Alabama


11


10.7


248.4


1703


1029


11


1


Miami (FL)


11


11.9


252.1


1630


1143


14


0


Ohio St.


11


14.8


275.3


2209


819


6


2


LSU


12


15.2


276.3


2179


1137


10


1


Texas


12


14.6


280.6


1871


1496


11


0


Florida


11


18.4


289.8


2113


1075


16


1


West Virginia


11


16.3


293.5


2136


1092


17


2


Auburn


11


14.7


294.1


2087


1148


8


0


Georgia Tech


11


18.5


296.4


2182


1078


21


2


Georgia


12


14.6


297.8


2085


1488


16


1


Tennessee


11


18.6


298.2


2373


907


9


2


Connecticut


11


19.2


298.3


1743


1538


14


2


N.C. State


11


19.3


299.0


2139


1150


13


2


Florida St.


12


21.7


302.4


2358


1271


12


1


Oklahoma


11


23.9


304.8


2350


1003


13


3


Penn St.


11


16.5


306.5


2282


1090


16


1


Boston Coll.


11


15.5


308.4


2345


1047


11


1


Kansas


11


22.8


308.6


2426


969


15


2


South Florida


11


18.4


313.0


1858


1585


13


2


Louisville


11


22.7


318.0


2317


1181


9


1


Toledo


11


22.5


321.5


2103


1434


16


4


Akron


12


23.3


325.2


2181


1721


7


0


Nebraska


11


20.4


326.0


2225


1361


13


3


Troy


11


23.2


327.3


2022


1578


5


0


Texas Tech


11


19.4


328.2


1890


1720


12


0


Mississippi


11


22.3


332.6


1973


1686


6


0


TCU


11


18.1


332.8


2400


1261


27


0


Middle Tenn. St.


11


18.7


333.5


2176


1492


14


0


Clemson


11


18.3


334.1


2245


1430


14


0


Mississippi St.


11


23.5


335.5


2145


1545


12


0


Pittsburgh


11


22.1


338.0


1681


2037


14


1


Iowa St.


11


18.5


339.1


2633


1097


22


2


Marshall


11


25.9


340.3


1963


1780


9


0


Fresno St.


12


21.8


340.3


2345


1738


9


0


Arkansas


11


24.6


341.9


2303


1458


12


1


Army


11


26.7


342.3


1873


1892


12


0


Tulsa


12


23.4


342.3


2170


1937


22


0


Rutgers


11


23.8


344.5


2405


1384


6


0


USC


12


21.3


344.7


2728


1408


22


1


Miami (OH)


11


23.5


347.4


2286


1535


20


1


Michigan


11


19.3


347.6


2327


1497


12


0


South Carolina


11


21.9


347.7


1937


1888


12


1


Colorado


12


24.0


347.8


3031


1143


14


1


North Carolina


11


26.2


349.2


2321


1520


12


1


Maryland


11


25.0


350.5


2033


1823


9


0


California


11


20.5


351.7


2533


1336


15


2


Oregon


11


23.7


357.4


2456


1475


23


1


Kansas St.


11


27.7


359.5


2536


1418


8


1


Navy


11


25.7


359.6


2242


1714


10


1


Buffalo


11


29.7


363.3


1910


2086


10


0


Missouri


11


29.0


364.7


2338


1674


13


3


UTEP


11


24.2


364.8


2249


1764


14


2


Virginia


11


22.5


368.0


2432


1616


15


1


Boise St.


12


24.2


368.6


3147


1276


15


2


Northern Illinois


12


22.8


368.8


2671


1754


11


0


LA Lafayette


11


27.6


372.0


2092


2000


6


1


Tulane


11


31.6


372.1


1964


2129


7


2


UAB


11


24.0


372.4


2467


1629


16


1


Syracuse


11


26.8


372.7


2040


2060


15


0


Utah


11


25.4


372.8


2411


1690


15


1


Arkansas St.


11


24.7


372.8


2047


2054


13


1


Florida Intl.


11


29.4


375.6


2330


1802


10


4


Iowa


11


19.0


376.8


2802


1343


10


1


Notre Dame


11


23.6


376.9


2833


1313


13


3



...down here in total defense... the highlighted teams finished in the top five.

We know our offense will give us a chance, but defense wins championships. If Notre Dame can improve as it did in '93, Notre Dame will be in the NC race, if not, it's wait 'till two (and possibly three) years from now, because Notre Dame's talent gap is going to grow considerably after these seniors leave.

~ The Rock

2/11 - Rating The Recruits: McNeil, Brown, Gaines & Gordon

Raeshon McNeil

Cornerback / Athlete
Height: 6-foot-0
Weight: 175 pounds
Mocksville (NC) Davie County

McCovered - The first thing that jumped out about Raeshon is his body control, both upper and lower. He "may" not have the straight line speed of other players (looked plenty fast to me,) but he knows how to use what he has. On one interception return, it looks like the rest of the field was moving in slow motion, not because McNeil looked so unbelievably fast, but because he just has so much more control over where he is going than everyone else. We've had too many straight line fast stiffs at Notre Dame who couldn't cover because they couldn't make all of the adjustments necessary during a route. That will not be a problem for McNeil. He stayed with the two top receivers in the country in Harvin and Hazelton during practice for the Army AA game, then completely shut down every receiver thrown his way during the game. Georgia and Florida made an attempt to get McNeil and failed. He seems to have great vision on film. He's a natural corner of the type we haven't had at Notre Dame in....

Rock Rating *****




Sergio Brown
Safety / Cornerback
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 184 pounds
Maywood (IL) Proviso East

Range
Rover - Brown doesn't look like he's moving fast then passes everyone on the field. Not as much of a pure speed guy as he is rangy and heady. He doesn't seem to be trying that hard and all of the sudden he's down the field or in position to make a play. He sticks his head in there like your embarrassing dog does between your neighbors legs. Seems like a great piece of clay to work with at Free Safety.

Rock Rating ****



Jashaad Gaines
Safety / Cornerback
Height: 6-foot-0
Weight: 202 pounds
Las Vegas (NV) Las Vegas

Twenty More Please - As in pounds. The kid's a player who likes to hit. I was very interested to see his video, because he wasn't as highly rated as some. Has a great feel for the ball carrier and very good closing speed. His body language reminds me most of Derrick Brooks. I could see Jashaad's future in the linebacking corps, though he has the talent to play strong safety. What I'm starting to notice about all of our kids is that they're not coming with any real "project" problems. Jashaad (and McNeil and Brown) all look they're already playing at a different level with regard to body positioning and feel for the game. Jashaad's going to start at Notre Dame one day at either strong safety or linebacker.

Rock Rating ****



Leonard Gordon
Cornerback / Safety
Height: 5-foot-10.5
Weight: 195 pounds
Fort Campbell (KY)

Tough Guy - Gordon's video isn't the best to make judgments off of, but it's clear that Charlie got himself a Tough Guy. What I said about the other DB candidates above is echoed by Gordon: good body position sheds blocks and doesn't bring down guys by accident. It's next to impossible to gauge his "athleticism/speed" quotient off this film, but he seems to have enough for the strong safety position. I like Gaines better, but that could be a function of the video.


Rock Rating ***

2/5 - Heartbreak, Hope and Help


I feel like I’m sitting at a Vegas table betting black after red comes up for the nth time in a row. I don’t remember watching a Notre Dame basketball team play as hard or as together as a unit as this one. Heartbreak after heartbreak, they go down in defeat. Luck has to change sometimes, doesn’t it?

Some have compared Brey to Willingham, which misses the mark by a large margin. Willingham’s teams didn’t look like they belonged on the field with many teams they had more talent then… by contrast Notre Dame looks like they could beat almost any team, any day. To many Brey can do no right. His shirt, his haircut, his timeouts, his substitutions, his scheme all look bad when Ws aren’t showing up on schedule. When you’re winning everything is painted with a rosy hue, when you’re losing, the world is bleak. As Lou said: “Nothing is as good or as bad as it seems.”

So what’s going wrong?

First up, Brey needs to take a serious look at his assistants and if they’re getting the job done. If Francis had improved even a smidge more we’re a NCAA team right now with deadly guard play. You may remember The Rock’s earlier prediction of a sweet sixteen appearance, well, one of the linchpins behind that prediction was the improvement of Torin Francis. Quinn has fulfilled all of my expectations and then some (and y’all said he couldn’t possibly be better than Thomas.) Carter has become a force with a combination of talents Notre Dame hasn’t in some time, but our post play is undependable, our second chance points non-existent and that has created a void that has cost this team games. Notre Dame’s big man development, since Hump, just hasn’t happened. Likewise our defense is often times non-existent.

Brey needs a bad cop. What I’ve consistently heard about Brey and his staff is that they’re great guys to have a beer with. You don’t want to have a beer with your coach; you want him to beat you into a champion. When Charlie Weis came on board one of the first pieces of advice he received was “don’t be a friend to your players, be their coach.”

I’m heartened by recruiting. Harangody, Peoples and Jackson could turn out to be just as important a class as last years. And last year’s recruits, specifically, McAlarney look to have huge potential.

Notre Dame is set for a nice run, but Brey or if not Brey, someone above him, can’t let this opportunity pass. Notre Dame could be poised a great couple of years, but if we need an assistant coaching change, do it now, or there could be a head coaching change. Notre Dame has certainly had the raw talent to make the NCAA the past three years, but hasn't. The simple truth is that the players deserve to be coached up to their ability and given the chance they came here for: to compete for a championship. It's a disservice to them and their careers to allow substandard coaching.

A couple of NDNation posters share their takes:

The worst Duke habit imported to ND by Brey: the belief that we could consistently recruit according to the K/Duke paradigm and template of more recent Duke outfits — the ones, btw, without all those NCs they were supposed to pile up given all their nifty bling-bling AA recruits. The idea that we/ND/Brey could land the types and quantities of “star” players — again, consistently — to run that overly-Guard oriented, perimeter-based, 3-pt shooting madness of a “system” more recently favored by K, is pure folly. Especially given our ability to recruit to ND vs. theirs, truth be told.

We need to stop emulating Duke’s style and approach in recruiting and system, and start recruiting to and playing Big East, Midwest, I-95 basketball. Others have said it, but this wretched season has confirmed it. We need more of Brey’s DeMatha background and less of his K/Duke influence. More blue-collar, lunch pail, low-post to movement and motion stuff, and less pseudo-elite, quasi-Ivy, bobblehead-movin, floor-spankin niftiness. Duke gets beat with power and versatile athleticism, and so do we, although much more easily, sadly. We need more cowbell and less ring-the-bell.

It appears from our current, and perhaps future, recruiting efforts, that Brey finally has agreed and acquiesced here, and a return to his and ND’s basketball jones’ roots may be in order, and none too soon. Witness, Harangody, Jackson and Peoples for starters. Revert to that Duke crap, and a new coach will be in order.

Okay, there’s one take. Here’s another.

1. As has been the case in the last 3 or 4 games, there was never a moment when I thought ND would win. I wasn’t sure how they would manage to lose, but I knew it would happen. Now I’m just a fan, but I have to believe these kinds of thoughts are starting to go through the players’ and coaches’ heads. Kudos to them for fighting hard anyway, but the mental pressure has to be killing them. This is like yipping putts. You have to fix the mental part first.

2. It is well past time for TF’s role to be limited to 10-15 minutes off the bench. His play early last night was a killer. I will reiterate a point I made previously. He should not touch the ball on the offensive end of the court unless the ball first hits the rim. I’m willing to chalk this up to coincidence, but has anyone else noticed that ND’s most (arguably only) successful stretch of games the past three years was the stretch where Torin was injured and unable to play? (On a related note, Weis was quoted yesterday as saying that playing seniors just because they are seniors gets coaches fired. Hmmm.)

3. RiC had a good game, but I’m not ready to annoint him the low post solution. WVU has a dreadful inside offensive presence, so RiC’s defensive weakness was not as easily exploited. There should be opportunities for him to play, but the circumstances need to be right. I would get Kurz and Zeller more playing time, because they will need to the experience for next year.

4. It is amazing how much media attention ND has gotten the past three years despite being so mediocre. The last two years, ND got a lot of press for being the best team not to dance. This year, they are getting press as the unluckiest team in the history of basketball. Strange as this sounds, if (and that’s a big if) ND could get to 7-9 in conference and win a game or two in the BET, they would probably have a really good chance to make the NCAA tournament. The Committee likes to try to prove that they are smarter than everyone else, and a 17-12 or 18-12 ND team would give them a shot at looking smart. At a minimum, they know ND would not embarrass them by getting blown out in the first round.

5. Do people realize how talented ND is offensively? We seldom get easy baskets and never get fast break points. We are pretty easily defended, which means most of our shots are contested and we run a pretty deliberate offense. And still we score at a very good clip. WVU shot wide open threes, while ND shot mostly contested threes, and we still outshot them.

6. When you lose, you always seem to focus on what you did wrong, without giving yourself enough credit for doing some things right. Six of our seven conference losses have been to teams in the top half of the conference. (NOTE–I wonder if anyone else has even PLAYED six of the top eight teams in the conference?) To lose 7 games by 23 points doesn’t reflect a bad team. It reflects a freakishly unlucky team. It defies the odds. (If you don’t buy the luck argument, you should have watched the end of the Cuse-Rutgers game. That game was determined SOLELY by luck.)

7. By all rights, ND should be 3-5 or 4-4 in conference. It’s not (and I understand “you are what your record is”). The point is that a team that had gone 3-5 or 4-4 with our schedule would be predicted to 6-2 or 5-3 (at worst) over the remainder of the season. I see no reason to think that won’t prove to be the case.

2/5 - Rating the Recruits: Aldridge, Schmidt, Smith & Wade


James Aldridge
Crown Point, IN (Merrillville)
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 200 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.5 seconds

The Rock Report: Watching Aldridge run is just plain fun. He has fantastic feet, balance and an effortless change of direction. If he can't run around you he has no problem putting his head down and trying the through you approach and then bouncing free. He runs with low pad level until he sees daylight and then rears up ala Eric Dickerson and runs for seven. Some have said he's a bigger faster Darius Walker, to me he looks like you melted Ricky Waters and Tony Brooks into one back. He can run with power or elusiveness and seems to have great field vision. He doesn't have the "can't catch me" top end speed of Reggie Bush, but it's going to take a hell of athlete to bring him down from behind. Everything you could want in a back... very good, very
good with a chance to be great.

Rock Rating: * * * * *


Luke Schmidt
Jasper (IN)
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 230 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.6 seconds

The Rock Report: Luke Schmidt is just a player. He looked like a High Schooler playing with fifth graders on film. He has NFL size right now and the ability to play almost any position... from Running Back to Tight End to Defensive End to Linebacker to Safety. You're just not going to find many players with his size and speed. He reminds me a little of Brian Cushing on film in relation to that size and speed, but Schmidt is a very good back, very good. He has excellent feet and and knee bend which allow him to stop and start and stop and start until the path clears, then he outruns everyone to the endzone. I don't see the Mike Alstott comparison below, Schmidt seems like more of a pure runner to me who is more prone to juke than bull his way past a linebacker. He continually found extra yards and was rarely caught from behind. Schmidt has the ability to play tailback and would probably start there for three years at a lessor school that didn't have Darius Walker or James Aldridge coming in. I think that if Schmidt played in a better league he'd be more highly regarded. There is no video of him blocking, so evaluating his fullback potential in that regard is hard to do, but he's a heck of a player. The only question I have about Schmidt is where to play him. He could be a great linebacker or defensive end, but his feet and ability might be too hard to overlook on offense. He'll likely be the fullback H-back combo guy Weis is looking for, he's a matchup nightmare. If Weis can you get you on your heels, Schmidt is a guy who could just rip you to shreds.

Rock Rating: * * * *


Toryan Smith
Rome, GA
Height: 6-foot-0
Weight: 230 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.65 seconds


The Rock Report: It's tough to look at Smith and his aggressiveness and not think of the be speckled monster of the Bear's midway who changed games with this aggressiveness. There is so much to like about Smith from a recruiting standpoint and a player standpoint. He's important because he's a southern player who chose the Irish over Sooners, SwampLizards and Skunkbears and as smitty once wrote: "Smith is one of the best linebacker recruits I have ever watched on film." He'd make an outstanding full back, but he'll make a better linebacker.
He explodes into people with a great first step and anticipation. Blows up blockers and shatters lives when he arrives at the point of impact. He has innate field awareness and the ability to sift through traffic in pursuit and fight through blocks. Because of this, he will be hell do deal with coming in on a blitz. If there's a knock on him, it might be top end speed. Plays with a confidence that he knows what's going on at all times on the field. An ideal middle linebacker who has the size and presence and ability to contribute early if needed.

Rock Rating: * * * *




Kallen Wade
Weakside DE / Outside linebacker
Cincinnati (OH) Withrow
Height: 6-foot-5
Weight: 220 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.55 seconds

The Rock Report: Felt like I was watching the Zapruder film... if you can tell how good this kid his from the film, you can probably track down who shot Kennedy. Not much to say from this film. He's a aggressive and has a great frame, but there were no flashes of brilliance or incredible ability. Not a knock on the kid, but that photog needs a camera upgrade. Wade would appear to be a project. He's a good numbers kid: 40-time height, weight, but nothing in his film gives you a look at the crystal ball.

Rock Rating: * * *

2/1 - The Rock (Signing Day)

The first shaft of light on signing day stirs grown men’s souls like little boys in the predawn hours after the fat man slipped down the chimney. Under this tree aren’t presents… but names… names attached to numbers. Numbers like height, weight, forty, bench press, shuttle and vertical… recruiting type numbers.

Each a gift at this point because they’ve chosen to don the gold flaked helmets of Notre Dame, touch the Play Like a Champion placard, run through the tunnel and possibly, if the breaks are with them, into Irish lore. This year, unlike many others in the past where the spiffy new toy opened on signing day has, under pressure, often condensed into a lump of coal after four years of un-coaching, there’s a sense that these gifts will keep on giving and grow far beyond their pre-signing pub packages.

This is the good time, the preseason with no losses on the ledger, the blank slate, when every name could be an All-American, a National Champion, a first round draft choice, a Notre Dame legend. Notre Dame will finish somewhere between three and ten in the recruiting annals, likely settling at an average of fifth in the country. It was a class that began to come together right after last year's was signed and to quote the other Chancey: "Today, the soil is healthier though the farmer planted aggressively."

Notre Dame came out of the box firing with both six guns while keeping a shotgun in the sling, a shiv in the front belt, a mac in the back and a one shot strapped to the ankle. In short, the Irish came prepared for anything and because of that, to this point, have lost no one. Oh they tried, there were attempts at poaching Notre Dame's class, but this staff recruited right up to signing day; it is, after all, an offer they can't refuse. The Urban myth has lost two players so far today who didn't think the used car salesman's weak chin and butt cutt were quite as spiffy as ESPN as advertised.

But these are 17 year olds, and as that kooky ole now semi-retired conspiracy theory spouting anchor who I never thought was any good to begin with said: "If you try to read the tea leaves before the cup is done you can get yourself burned." Usually I say Notre Dame will lose one and also gain one unexpectently on this day, but this year it appears there will be no drama, we are as done as a Siùrsach at daybreak.

Where do I rate this class overall: I give it an A.

A top five class, or thereabouts, is an A and this is one.

I don't give out plusses or minus, because this is blind dart throwing to begin with, but this class has the most important ingredients any class can have: quarterbacks to mold (remember quarterbacks are developed, not recruited), a stellar offensive line and shutdown corners. The big hole is that one in the middle that Gerald McCoy won't be filling. There is a shred of hope because both Ryan and Mullen have the frames and the tenacity to play there and now probably will, but we're missing that giant plug. Still, this class is so large, versatile and talented it's a solid A, which means there's enough talent here to win a national championship.

Just last December the ND haters of the world were oxymoronically reveling in the irrelevance of Notre Dame, but as the old saying goes: "Don't taunt the alligator until after you've crossed the creek."

It is now that I will apply my years of high school wrestling experience and years of financial, thespian and political science study with my decade of hack journalism experience to that which I know zero about: judging high school talent. But hell, everyone does it and my predictions have actually been pretty good lately… so I will slide on the turtleneck and give it a go (I'll be updating the player analysis like a blog until I'm done, which may take awhile.) To quote the semi-retired kook again: "I'm a long distance runner and an all-day hunter."